Mexican law enforcement failures worsen rise in murders of women

When Ariadna Lopez, 27, was found dead by the side of a highway in the central Mexican state of Morelos in October, local investigators were quick to say there was no « no signs of violence ».

But their version of events – that Lopez died of asphyxiation from alcohol poisoning – quickly crumbled.

First, Lopez’s family publicly denounced the idea that no crime had been committed, pointing to bruises on Lopez’s body.

Then a second autopsy conducted at the request of officials in Mexico City, where she had gone to a restaurant the night of her death, said her body had various blunt force injuries and concluded that multiple trauma was the cause of death.

The case highlighted repeated shortcomings in the investigation of violent crimes against women in Mexico, where the number of recorded murders of women is on the rise.

In the days after Lopez’s death, Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum accused prosecutors in Morelos of « wanting to cover up the femicide » due to alleged corrupt ties to the alleged killer, without providing detailed evidence.

Morelos Chief Prosecutor Uriel Carmona denies any wrongdoing and said he has no connection to the suspect. He said that although Lopez’s body had bruises, his office’s original autopsy was correct.

For Teresa Rodriguez, a sociologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), the attempt to blame Lopez for her own death, by drinking too much, fits into a victim-blaming pattern common in Mexico.

This often discourages women from reporting crimes.

« The most tragic thing is that this tendency to revictimize and blame the victim doesn’t even require corruption, » Rodriguez said.

Rise of feminicides

Lopez’s case fits into a grim pattern of botched investigations into the murders of women. In April, 18-year-old Debanhi Escobar was found dead near a motel in the state of Nuevo Leon. A first autopsy concluded an accidental death; a second noted sexual assault and assault and battery; and a third concluded that she died of asphyxiation.

In 2017, the family of Lesvy Berlin, who was found strangled in a phone booth in Mexico City, were first told by investigators that she had taken her own life. Authorities, who ultimately ruled the death a femicide, took two years to apologize.

On April 24, protesters demanded justice for victims of gender-based violence and femicide after the death of Debanhi Escobar, an 18-year-old law student whose body was found submerged in a water tank inside a ‘a motel in the northern state of Nuevo Leon, in Mexico City, Mexico. (Quetzalli Nicte-Ha/Reuters)

More than 5,600 women were killed in Mexico in the first nine months of this year, according to government data, an average of 20 a day.

Half were suspected homicides, just over a third murders and 12% femicides – the killing of a woman or girl on the basis of gender, a more serious charge that carries up to 70 years in prison.

Last year, the number of femicides rose even as murders of men fell slightly, according to government data. Mexico remains plagued by gang violence that kills mostly men.

For 100 women killed, 4 sentences

Long prison sentences for femicide do not help when killings often go unreported and not adequately investigated, Melissa Fernandez, a researcher at the University of the Cloister of Sor Juana in Mexico City, told Reuters. , specializing in gender-based violence.

Government data from 2019 showed that for every 100 women killed in Mexico, only four result in sentences.

Tackling femicide, Fernandez said, requires addressing slow police responses and ensuring law enforcement follows protocols for possible gender-based killings.

“Hell, it has to be said: in this country, men kill women because they can,” said Fernandez, who also pointed to a media culture that often trivializes the killing of women and girls.

On Friday, women across Latin America marched in an international day of protest against gender-based violence.


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